Education for a better world.

I have absolutely no idea why I never posted this on my own blog after all this while….it’s been, after all, 2 years!  It has

been left sitting in LBS’ website isolated from the rest of its family here on this blog!

So here goes :

written in December, 2008

Part 1 :  Deschooling in order to Educate for a better world.

On  Dec. 8th  FamilyPlace organized a talk by Professor Emeritus Gary Confessore, (Ed.D) of the Higher Education Administration of George Washington University who was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to lead a discussion on “Self-Directed Learning”. The talk was held at a venue in Kota Kemuning which was attended by about 40 parents of homeschoolers and homeschoolers-to-be.

Prof. Confessore (he insists we call him Gary) applauds those present who have taken the initiative (or are considering) to home-school their children.  Despite the early opinions of homeschoolers as religious fundamentalists who stayed away from mainstream schooling, the results today show otherwise. The children of parents who were pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the U.S. have reached college going age and how they have turned out has indicated that perhaps those parents did something right which traditional schooling got so wrong. [Note: In March 2010 I published this compilation of comments Perhaps the only solution is real homeschooling.]

The parents of these children boast none of the usual credentials of being ‘certified’ and ‘state-qualified’ or ‘highly-trained’ teachers. Yet, they succeeded in raising children who have turned out to be so well-adjusted, highly functional and academically successful. These young people not only aced scholastic aptitude tests and scored better in reading and math than the national average but also impressed college entrance interviewers with how well-adjusted and confident they appeared.

These homeschooled children entered college going age at the same time the American public schooling system showcased publicly how it was suffering from a systematic failure across all boards.  Over the past decades, across the Western hemisphere and spreading quickly to the East, we are witnessing social outcomes that are symptomatic of this schooling crisis. An examination of and discussion with primary and high school teachers in America, Western Europe and Australia will show that even in ‘developed’ countries, the problems that plague us exists as well. The only difference is that their earlier awareness and openness to admit the problems have initiated research and responses to the crisis.

This system failure is being replicated around the world and Malaysia is not immune to it even if we deny the bigger question and fiddle around with piecemeal solutions. As I write this, I am resonating with an eerie déjà vu of a book I read not long after I finished secondary school, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. The bestselling book, published two decades ago paints a picture that I believe is not exclusive to America but is unfolding right here on our very shores. Even though the premise of the book talks about contemporary American higher education, as a student just out of secondary school and skeptical of what university life was supposed to offer, I drew a parallel which saw what I experienced during my eleven years or so of schooling as a precursor to the same failing or closing of the Malaysian mind.

I had always strongly believed that was happening in universities was simply an extension of what was happening in schools.  With bated breath, I was hopeful that Malaysia being a younger nation would avoid the pitfalls of the schooling systems in developed country and yet be able to hitchhike on the advancements they had made in research and approaches to teaching, especially in the field of learning skills and language acquisition.

Two decades later, I see that this systematic failure of schooling has traversed time and space and is played out as much here as it has elsewhere in the world. We are witnessing an increase in parents and teachers experiencing anxieties induced by disenchantment with what is happening in mainstream education.  This anxiety transcends (almost) all economic and racial barriers. Yet this situation is not unique to Malaysia. It is a uniform effect of the failings of the traditional model of schooling.

Faced with an impossible situation of being educated enough to not surrender the fate of our children to the failings of the system yet  unable to extrapolate and digest empirical studies that would give assurances about making alternative choices for our children’s future it is understandable that parents and teachers alike feel stranded on a highway going nowhere.  Seen in this light, it is worth acknowledging the decisions of the pioneers of homeschooling who have taken the plunge decades ago. Their efforts have provided the first set of data to suggest and support the viability of an alternative form of learning which challenges the traditional practices and approaches and which goes beyond schooling as we know it.

For most of us, we bear witness to an era in modern human civilization where the ‘Separation of Parent and School’ (as opposed to Church and State) has carved a distinctive psychological divide between Parenting and Teaching.  If a parent has chosen a path to home-school, how does a parent start crossing that divide? There is something to be learnt from the pioneers of homeschooling. Remember, they were neither ‘certified’ nor ‘state-sanctioned’ teachers. In fact, in some states, it was illegal to home-school your own child due to a belief that one needs to have special qualities and aptitudes that were the exclusive of state-trained and approved teachers.  What magic then, did these homeschooling parents conjure that helped them consistently deliver star-quality learners to college? What qualities did these pioneer parents possess or acquired in the course of their homeschooling which provided a bearing indicating a direction where learners acquired the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed in life yet managed the equilibrium between academic and emotional success?

What that magic was was that, through an inductive process, these intuitive homeschooling parents have discovered the importance of understanding how different personalities and styles of learning affect outcome. Research in the past few decades have supported this notion and it has repeatedly pointed educators and teacher-trainers in a radically different trajectory from traditional practice. This has been the path pioneer homeschooling parents had boldly gone where mainstream schooling had not gone before. The traditional teacher-centered approach to teaching assumes that students are like raw ingredients that can be put on a conveyor belt and manufactured to fit into neat moulds which were convenient for instruction and testing.  The pioneer homeschoolers’ ability to cultivate intuitions about their children and their children’s learning was what made them highly-effective teachers in spite of a lack of formal training, which in turn, produced highly functional children who became autonomous learners.

Part 2 : Counter-intuitive ideas : What makes a learner successful.

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